One advantage of studying Aristotle is that everything appears to hang systematically together in the same web of relations. Everything he says seems to follow logically from his metaphysical theory of change. Aristotle’s ethics defines even today the domain of ethics: its focus is the virtues of the great-souled man living his flourishing life in the great-souled city. One cannot, for example, escape the importance of the fact that ethics ought to be defined by the answers to three interrelated questions:
What is it to lead the flourishing, meaningful life?
What is it to be a great-souled man?
What constitutes a good action?
Answering each question completely ought also to provide the answers to the other questions. Such is the nature of a logical relation. In particular, Aristotle’s ethics and political philosophy have a very close relation to each other because Aristotle has accepted an old Socratic assumption of the isomorphism of the soul and the city. The difference between the Socratic and Aristotelian positions is that the soul for Aristotle is not some kind of spiritual substance occupying a realm of its own but more like a form or organizing principle which will help us understand the holistic entity of a person. There is a therefore greater justification for using the same language of virtue and vice for the characterization of the activity of the person and the charaterization of the activity of the city.
Of one thing one can be sure, Aristotle’s view of the soul and the flourishing life in a flourishing city was not a theoretical product of his theory of change. Any theory of Aristotle’s would have been preceded by intense practical activities of observation, experimentation hypothesizing and research. Aristotle’s Callipolis and Plato’s Callipolis have therefore different origins and motivations. Aristotle is reputed to have collected the constitutions of 150 different city-states. After a period of intensive research, we find him saying very different things to Plato who postulated 5 kinds of state: the Callipolis, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Aristotle, in contrast, used the idea of areté and a belief in collective wisdom and the common good to postulate six kinds of state, three of which were virtuous regimes(the constitutional, aristocracy and monarchy and three of which were corrupt(vice-ridden) regimes(democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny). Aristotles subsequent analysis included the claim that democracy(not tyranny) and oligarchy were extreme forms of regimes because they were tied to two of the most important classes that historically constituted city-states. Neither of these classes had ever succeeded in creating a just regime or serving the common good of the city because whenever the one class reigned the other actively and bitterly opposed this rule and caused division in the city. In Aristotle’s time, it was also the case that there were a class of people who had tired of these extremes and wished for a moderate rule in which justice and knowledge of the common good were the norms for the rulers. Aristotle called this class who had knowledge of the virtues the middle class. He further stated that only when the middle class becomes sufficiently numerous and influential will they be able to neutralize the faction between the oligarchs and the Democrats. The question that immediately arises is what form of life would this middle-class desire. We know the class must be knowledgeable and that elements of the democratic life and elements of the oligarchic life would contribute to their lifestyle and we know because of his criticisms of Plato’s Republic that there will not be one homogeneous form of life but that the city contains ” a multitude of forms of life”. We know that this class will favour a liberal education and will be represented by great-souled men who are statesmen.
Smith has this to say on the topic of the telos of the city:
“The aim of the city is not the production of wealth as was the case with the Phoenicians. One American President has claimed that the business of the USA is business. Aristotle would have disagreed: the business of the city is rather activities for the sake of noble acts performed well”
Noble acts performed excellently characterize the great-souled city and this will also be the focus of the liberal education preferred by the middle class who will fill their lives with both studying the thoughts of noble men about noble acts and studying what noble men think of each other. This is very much along the lines of a popular conception of Gods consorting and discoursing with other gods. The young men of the middle class will largely imitate these noble men in their lives until they can live as virtuously as the noble men themselves. They will lead contemplative lives of peace and leisure aiming to be statesmen or Philosophers far from the madding crowd which we must suppose will be composed of oligarchs and Democrats demanding riches and unbridled freedom. Smith summarizes Aristotle excellently:
“In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle gives us a list of the characteristics of the great-souled man: a lofty detachment to pettiness, slow to act unless the matter is important, not obligated to others, speaks his mind without fear or favour, may hurt others but is not deliberately cruel, will possess beautiful and useless things, walks slowly for to rush is undignified, is tall and speaks with a deep voice.”
Smith continues and asks:
“Is this a picture of a statesman?”
Or is this a picture of a gentleman, or are they one and the same? Smith continues:
“This gentleman/statesman possesses a certain kind of knowledge: a practical understanding and capacity for judgment necessary for the administration of affairs. Phronesis.Someone possessing phronesis is a Phronomos. This kind of ability is not the same as that which is demonstrated in abstract and speculative feats of reason. Insight and discrimination is a different kind of intelligence to that manifesting theoretical ability.”
This cannot but remind us of the reason why Aristotle claimed that we cannot demand certainty in the realm of politics and ethics.
But it also reminds us of Kantian Philosophy in which there is the suggestion that ethics is objective and universal and requires the use of practical reason in accordance with a supersensible principle, whereas the phronomos or statesman in dealing with particular situations requiring particular actions needs to use not reason but judgment which at best only aspires to universality via wise words spoken in a universal voice expecting agreement but without possessing fully constitutive grounds to fall back upon if justifications are demanded. The phronomos proposes a judgment which has a different status to the determinative universality of the moral law. The judgment serves as a guide to our reflection upon our attempts to achieve the flourishing meaningful life via a multitude of empirical laws. Such judgments allow us to think about our life in holistic terms, in terms of what Kant calls ideal causes which are teleological and ideal, echoing Aristotles 4 causes in his theory of change:
“In so far as the causal connection is thought merely by means of understanding it is a nexus constituting a series, namely of causes and effects, that is invariably progressive. The things that as effects presuppose others as their causes cannot themselves, in turn, be also causes of the latter…On the other hand, however, we are also able to think a causal connection according to a rational concept, that of ends, which, if regarded as a series, would involve regressive as well as progressive dependency. It would be one in which the thing, that for the moment is designated as effect deserves none the less, if we take the series regressively, to be called the cause of the thing of which it was said to be the effect…Thus a house is certainly the cause of the money that is received as rent, but yet conversely, the representation of this possible income was the cause of building the house. A causal nexus of this kind is termed that of final causes….The concept of a thing as intrinsically a physical end is, therefore, not a constitutive conception either of understanding or of reason, but yet it may be used by the reflective judgment as a regulative conception for guiding our investigation of objects of this kind.”(Kant’s Critique of Judgement pp20–24)
Kant goes on to point out that it is the teleology of organisms that provide full objective reality to the idea of an end. But Kant also reminds us that to find the telos of the existence of nature we require a knowledge of the final end of nature which lies beyond our understanding in a principle of a supersensible kind that transcends nature itself(the unconditional condition). So our concepts and laws of judgment in this respect are not constitutive but regulative.
The phronomos is a practical man and action is fundamentally teleological in that it is what it is in virtue of its telos, in virtue of that which it is aiming to bring about in accordance with its representation (intention). He is a man who knows that the will operates in the realm of practical concepts some of which bring about the existence of the state of affairs represented. Hence there is connected to such concepts an ought condition(ought to be actualized) He is a Kantian man who knows that there are concepts operating in accordance with the understandings concept of progressive causation which helps us to regulate our understanding of nature as a realm of phenomena. He also knows there is a realm of concepts connected with the will and the law of freedom which pulls the will out of the realm of phenomena and progressive causation and places it in a realm of the ought system of concepts in which the self is a causa sui which brings about what it ought to. It is in this realm of concepts that the phronomos is most at home for it is in this realm that everything is created: our artifacts our education, our laws, our friendships our even more objectively our obligations and duties. It is from this realm that our great-souled city is created, or ought to be created. That it might never have existed is not an argument against the reality of its concept. The phronomos knows that there are conceptual grounds for this city’s existence and that is a good enough argument for him. He will never commit the naturalistic fallacy and move from the fact that it has never existed to the conclusion that it ought not to exist.
Returning to the argument of Smith: he asks the following question:
“Does Aristotle have a political science?…Political Science today is part of the social sciences each of which examines a particular set of actions and interactions. What, then, does Political Science study? The core of this branch of study is the regime. It is the science which discusses the ordering principle which makes all the other social sciences possible. It is a master Science which determines the rank of all the others. The Science of the Sciences….What is the purpose of Political Science? To gain more knowledge?Of what? For What? Of wars revolutions and elections. It involves the gathering of data and the organizing of information. But what is this knowledge for? It seeks knowledge for the sake of praxis and action and for the sake of the Good:”All human activity and action aims at the Good”(Aristotle). All political action aims at preservation or change and implies a standard of better or worse which in turn implies a standard of the Good. And it is this knowledge which serves the regime, which preserves and improves the regime. This knowledge helps us to keep the ship of state afloat and helps us to navigate to port. Unfortunately Political Science today regards this craft as subjective.”
I am not convinced that this is a decisive criterion of differentiation for the different areas of the social sciences, namely that “each of which examines a particular set of actions and interactions”. That seems to need a more sustained argument which includes the presentation of the history of these different areas of inquiry. Is Philosophy a social science on this criterion? If it is on what grounds do we differentiate ethics and political Philosophy? These two areas of inquiry must be different on Smiths terms because ethics is not about regimes. Is political Philosophy merely the application of ethical ideas to regimes?
According to Kant’s Critique of Judgment, the Phronomos when he speaks with a universal voice is grounding his reflections upon a subjective principle of the harmony of the cognitive faculties. If this is so then Political Philosophy is subjective. If so does it them deserve the status of a science? Is it not as Kant suggested more of an art form?